Although House Sparrows are not always liked, they are well named. This old world sparrow thrives across North America where people live. It is native to Eurasia and northern Africa, but is widespread and abundant around the world.
This species, unrelated to native sparrows, was introduced to this side of the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-1850s. It is well-adapted to city living, and near houses and barns in the countryside. Apparently the rural birds have smoother feathers and more colour than their urban counterparts. I’m not sure why.
They do not live in natural forests, benefiting from human activity and buildings, as well as nesting boxes intended for native species.
I enjoy the noisy chatter of their large groups on this rural property. This winter they’d often sit in a dogwood bush under my kitchen window where I could hear their chatter indoors. It occurs to me they were “my house” sparrows.
People sometimes get fed up with House Sparrows, because they can overwhelm feeders and native birds. Their tendency to find nesting boxes desirable real estate, concerned me this week.
I spied a male House Sparrow checking out each of the two Eastern Bluebird boxes I have. I was disconcerted to find it going in and out. It hung out in one and surveyed the property from the opening, singing its approval. It also chose to sit on top for quite a while in a decidedly “Lord of the Manor” sort of way.
It was curious behaviour to me because they had spent the whole winter ignoring what could have been a cozy home against the elements. It seems the warmer weather this week may have ramped up some hormones.
According to nestwatch.org, House Sparrows and European Starlings “nest in structures ranging from gutters and downspouts to thick shrubs and bushes, but readily use nest boxes when available. They outcompete native cavity-nesting birds, and are known to destroy nests and eggs, and kill nestlings and adults while taking over an occupied nest site.”
Because neither species migrate they can beat migratory birds, such as bluebirds, to the nesting box. The site suggests ways to avoid this by plugging the entrance until migratory birds’ nesting time, to have an entrance too small for starlings, to place the box away from buildings, to avoid attracting starlings and House Sparrows with food, and other more aggressive actions once nesting occurs.
I will heed moving the boxes farther from my house. I hesitate somewhat because I was successful in my first year to have one of the boxes occupied by Eastern Bluebirds. I have seen bluebirds here toward the end of March and so plugging the hole seems a difficult thing to time.
I am not among those who dislike these sparrows, yet I might be if they prove to be aggressive in choosing a home.
I also haven’t really had issues with House Sparrows at feeders, but I will move the feeders to add distance from the relocated bluebird boxes.
Perhaps by making these simple changes I can have my Eastern Bluebirds, and House Sparrows too.
I share experiences of bird visitors to this property with readers every couple of weeks. Until next time, keep your eye to the sky, and look for birds that may come by.
Rosaleen Egan is a freelance journalist, a storyteller, and a playwright. She blogs on her website rosiewrites.com.